“This link with Africa is at the heart of who I am”

“This image marks the start of my new life. It was taken in 1973 in Monrovia, the capital of Liberia. I had decided to spend a few days there after going to Kinshasa to attend The Rumble in the Jungle, the historic boxing match between Muhammad Ali and George Foreman.

While walking through Monrovia’s open air market, I came across a stall filled with spectacular local handicrafts. I looked special, as usual, and when the seller complimented me on my style, I made him an offer: I would exchange all the clothes I had with me for the trip for the contents. from his shop. He accepted right away, and then I asked him to make me a suit. I drew a little sketch, and this is how this man became my first tailor.

In search of emigrated tailors

He was a Fulani from Guinea, and his style was influenced by the French style: he cut in a particular way, very close to the body. When I returned to New York, when I launched into fashion, I had in mind this first inspiration: to make African tailors work, to use local patterns to apply them to the silhouette of Harlem.

I started looking for emigrant tailors. I had one, then two, then three, then eight, then twenty-three, working day and night to supply my first store, Dapper Dan’s Boutique, which was open 24/7. on seven.

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This link with Africa is at the heart of who I am, and I don’t think it’s a coincidence that my vocation materialized in Liberia, this state founded in 1822 by 2,000 former slaves from the United States. In 1968, I was an active member of the Harlem subculture, and started writing for a radical magazine called Forty Acres and a Mule [“40 acres et une mule”, ce qui était promis aux esclaves affranchis durant la guerre de Sécession].

I was offered to go to Africa to discover my heritage. It was my first trip to the land of my ancestors. I have been back there several times since, in particular to explore what deeply constitutes African-American cultures in the United States, but also in Brazil, Cuba, Haiti …

In the photo I have a gold chain around my neck and a medallion flocked to my initials, DD, and a lion, my astrological sign. This image is a concentrate of my life and my work: knowing one’s past in order to find oneself and thus move forward. “

Ma vie made in Harlem, by Daniel R. Day, with Mikael Awake, translated from English by Jean Esch and Mickey Gaboriaud (Les Presses de la Cité).

Read also a report by Jacques Amalric from 1964: Harlem between “order” and anger